THE BIRDS (1963) 

Tippi Hedren
Rod Taylor
Jessica Tandy
Suzanne Pleshette
Veronica Cartwright
Ethel Griffies
Charles McGraw
Ruth McDevitt

Alfred Hitchcock



About Film

Time: 119 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Suspense/Horror

Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects.

Being a big Hitchcock fan, I'm making a singular effort to see as many of his films as I can. They may not all be masterpieces, but I've found them to all be at least entertaining. Though we've had the DVD for awhile, it's taken me some time to gear myself up to sit through THE BIRDS. Mainly, because I already have a fear of birds and wasn't sure I wanted to exacerbate it. I know this is a fiction film, but they based certain elements on true occurrences which is enough to creep me out even more. What I discovered is that this film is JURASSIC PARK, with birds instead of dinos. Everyone criticized Spielberg for not developing the human element and concentrating most of his efforts on the effects. Well, dial the time machine back 30 years and you've got the same problem. Both films work because they are well-crafted and downright scary, but neither has characters you really give a damn about. Both use children to try to catch your heart, however, it's clear that's just a ploy to make you more horrified at the eventual random bloodshed.

Unfortunately here, we're subjected to a horrible love story that strains the limits of believability from the onset. The way Mitch Brenner (Taylor) and Melanie Daniels (Hedren) meet is kind of cute with a distinctly sexual undertone. Melanie is in a bird shop confirming her order of a Myna bird when Mitch spots her and draws her into conversation. He knows she's not a saleswoman, but he initiates the conversation like he believes she is to see what she will do. Melanie, not one to back down, goes along with the pretense trying to answer his questions about purchasing a pair of lovebirds for his younger sister's birthday, but doesn't do a very good job. When she realizes he was just toying with her, she becomes determined to return the favor. An avid practical joker – she was in court for one of her misdeeds which is where Mitch saw her – Melanie purchases a pair of birds and delivers them to Mitch's apartment, only to discover he's in Bodega Bay for the weekend. Not a woman to leave a deed undone, she decides to drive 3 hours from San Francisco to the small fishing hamlet to surprise Mitch with the gift.

"He's got a client who shot his wife in the head six times. Six times, can you imagine it? I mean, even twice would be overdoing it, don't you think?"

Upon arriving in Bodega Bay, she rents a boat, sails across the bay (while wearing high heels and a full-length fur coat), sneaks into the Brenner household and deposits the birds with a note for Cathy, the little sister. Her handywork is discovered by Mitch while she's still at sea, prompting a race to the village. Things begin to go kookie from there when Melanie is attacked by a sea gull as she arrives at the dock. With her head bleeding, Mitch takes her to a local restaurant where they tend to her wound. There she meets his imposing, yet frightened mother Lydia (Tandy). Despite her plans to leave, Melanie is corralled into staying for dinner as a thank you for her gift. After a brief meeting, she begs the local school teacher Annie (Pleshette) to put her up for the night since she wasn't planning on staying over. She learns alot about Mitch and his family in a late night chat over brandy. Annie was once in love with Mitch and tries to give Melanie advice about how to deal with Lydia. If she's serious, it won't be easy to crack her cold exterior. Melanie is unsure just how she feels about Mitch, but is enticed into going to Cathy's birthday party the following afternoon.

Mitch isn't the only one happy that Melanie decided to stay. Melanie has instantly become Cathy's new best friend, which is just another reason for Lydia to dislike her. Mitch and Melanie attempt to get to know each other a little better on a walk up the bluffs, but their newfound romance will have to wait. Gulls appear out of nowhere and begin to attack the children, pecking at their heads and scratching their faces. Terrified, everyone manages to get into the house before any major harm is done. That night, as they try to recover from the horror of the afternoon, things get even weirder. Hundreds of swallows pour down the chimney, engulfing the room and tearing everything apart. No one believes them, not even the police when Lydia discovers a neighbor who clearly did not survive his encounter with the local fowl. It's just not in the nature of birds to attack humans. Well, clearly no one told these birds. Things go from bad to worse with thousands of birds amassing and attacking everyone from school children to local firemen, killing those unlucky enough to not make it to shelter. It seems all they can do is board up the house and wait.

The final onslaught is terrifying. You believe they're going to tear the house apart board by board just to hurt the humans inside. Mitch tries to protect the women as best he can, but even he has his limits. It isn't until Melanie is brutally attacked in an upstairs bedroom, that he finally decides they need to try to escape before it's too late. Why she even went up there to begin with is beyond me. You know the birds are killers, if you hear flapping don't open the door. It's a horrible horror ruse, yet it works like a charm, putting you on the edge of your seat. I think the attack is worse than the one in PSYCHO because the onslaught from the birds is relentless. At least you can try to protect yourself from one person. Of course, she was asking for it by opening the door. Hitchcock certainly enjoys torturing his leading ladies, however, in this version she happens to get rescued in the nick of time. He also gets an A for creepiness in the final sequence that has Mitch surrounded by hundreds of birds while trying to get to the car, praying they don't attack. Another ploy constantly imitated in horror flicks ever since to varying degrees of success.

I found the ending to be a bit flat and sudden, but after all those attacks I can say I was glad it was finally over. I wasn't expecting the attack on Melanie to be the big finish, but it is. Of course, he's destroyed everything else, so I guess another big scene wouldn't have added anything to the film. I didn't really care for the idea that they bandy about that Melanie's big-city ways and wanton lifestyle were the reason the town came under attack. She's just a socialite in for the weekend. She's not evil. It is a convenient way to explain the onslaught though not a very viable one. The fact that they never give an explanation makes the whole affair a bit random and unsettling, but I guess it's better than coming up with a ridiculous one. Taylor and Hedren have pretty good chemistry together, but that alone doesn't make for a believable romance. She spends more time hugging his sister than touching him. Their moments alone together are rushed and shallow. I know the birds are the stars of this movie, but it's hard to swallow this truncated love affair. Top the cake with a power struggle with mom and a jealous love triangle with the school teacher and you have yourself a grade A soap opera, not great horror/suspense material. The film is also lacking a sense of humor, which ususally makes Hitch's fare go down a bit smoother.

The main problem is all the drama has nothing to do with the birds, it's just filler in between attacks, which makes the film move a little slowly. You never learn enough about these people to truly care about them, so why bore us with their petty life issue? As for the birds, let me tell you, you will give these creatures a wary look after watching this film. Hitchcock goes all out to make sure this film had the best effects available and they're still pretty powerful today. The film has no score, just the dialogue and the sounds of the birds, which believe me makes this experience even more terrifying. All the silence has you on pins and needles waiting for the next round of flapping and screeching. You begin to dread any sound remotely associated with birds. Silence becomes your friend. I didn't exactly enjoy this experience, which is technically brilliant, but emotionally vacant. Yet, I was drawn in, compelled to see where the journey ended.

This is not one of Hitchcock's best films, but it certainly accomplishes it goal – to scare the bejuses out of you. If you like Hitch and horror movies, you'll probably like this one just fine. For the timid in the crowd, watch one of his tamer flicks like NOTORIOUS or REAR WINDOW. You get the master's suspenseful touch, without all the blood and gore.

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